The times catch up to 'Lamb Chop' lady

August 04, 1993|By Monica Yant | Monica Yant,Los Angeles Times

Psst. Shari Lewis has a secret: She wants her MTV.

"I can sit and watch it for hours," Ms. Lewis admits. "I love rap, when the lyrics aren't foul. I like a lot of rock and country. And I like zappy, high-energy visuals."

Can this be the same Shari Lewis who's entertained children for more than 30 years with the lovable, laughable puppet Lamb Chop? The same Shari Lewis who, at just 5 feet tall with striking red curls, looks more like Little Bo Peep than a rock 'n' roll fan?

Yup. Only this Shari Lewis is no storybook character. Try a savvy, hands-on businesswoman and a puppeteer-ventriloquist-actress-author-conductor who has won nine Emmy Awards over five decades -- including two in May for writing and performing on her latest children's series, "Lamb Chop's Play-Along."

In the world of children's entertainment, the diminutive Shari Lewis is bigger than ever. And like the rap music that drives the opening song of "Play-Along," she is always on the move.

This summer has been no exception: In the midst of rehearsing for the third season of PBS' "Play-Along," Ms. Lewis has published her 61st book, "Lamb Chop's Fables: The Boat Contest" (Time-Life), is readying four more home videos (A&M) based on features from "Play-Along," developing future television projects -- including a possible animated Lamb Chop series for CBS -- studying screenwriting and working out with her personal trainer.

On top of that, Ms. Lewis and her husband, book publisher Jeremy Tarcher, just moved to wait out a yearlong renovation of their Beverly Hills home.

Unlike her faithful companion Lamb Chop, who rests comfortably in a sealed plastic storage container far away from the chaos, the 59-year-old Ms. Lewis seems to have little time to catch her breath these days.

"People say to me, 'Have you sped up to keep up with today's kids?' " Ms. Lewis said amid a pile of unpacked boxes at her temporary residence, sipping a diet soft drink. "And I tell them, 'I'm lucky, the kids have caught up with me!' "

Where they've found Ms. Lewis -- and her legion of furry friends, like Charlie Horse and Hush Puppy -- is on public television. For parents who remember Ms. Lewis and Lamb Chop from their childhood -- either on CBS' "Captain Kangaroo" or on NBC's "The Shari Lewis Show" (1960-63) -- "Play-Along" is an opportunity to bridge generational gaps with their children. For kids, it is a half-hour of goofy gags and silly stories that Ms. Lewis uses to boost her viewers' self-esteem.

"Too many kids' shows are about nothing," Ms. Lewis laments. Tired of the violence and negative stereotyping in children's TV -- "so many shows still have girls sitting around watching while the boys do the action" -- Ms. Lewis is intent on doing her show her way.

Described as "an anti-couch potato" show, she designed it to motivate her 2- to 10-year-old target audience to participate in activities with her.

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